NEW ORLEANS––With two seconds left until halftime of the season opener between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, Niners kicker David Akers lined up for an NFL record-tying field goal.
From 63 yards away, Brian Jennings snapped the ball, Andy Lee held it in place and Akers booted it as far as he could.
Being so far away, Packers return specialist Randall Cobb backed up to the edge of the end zone, leapt up, tried and failed to swat the ball away as time expired.
The pigskin hit the crossbar, bounced up and through. Akers joined Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam and Sebastian Janikowski as the only kickers in league history to hit a field goal from 63 yards away.
Unfortunately for Akers, his season went downhill from there.
“Other than that 63-yarder, it’s just kind of been one of those roller-coaster years,” said Akers this week. “But hitting that 63-yarder was obviously one of the highlights of my career.”
Akers missed an NFL-high 13 field goals in 2012. His 69 percent conversion rate on field goals was worse than only one other everyday kicker, the Packers’ own Mason Crosby.
What came as so disappointing for Akers was that he was on top of his game just one season prior. In 2011 he led the NFL in scoring with 166 points, his 44 made field goals were 11 more than the next closest kicker, and he was the NFC’s representative in the Pro Bowl.
Akers was able to carry over that success into Week 1 of the season. And lucky for him, the scheduling gods were looking down upon him with fortune.
Had the 49ers game against the Packers been scheduled for December instead of September, Akers doesn’t think he would have found his way into the record books.
“There’s no way,” said Akers. “The balls just don’t travel nearly as far in the cold.”
At midseason, Akers hit the skids, not unlike Crosby.
Things got so bad that before the 49ers’ divisional round playoff game against the Packers, they brought veteran free agent kicker Billy Cundiff in for a tryout.
Akers, however, responded to the competition. Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh said he “prevailed in that environment.”
“(Akers) came into training camp ready to go and got off to a wicked hot start at the beginning of the season,” said Harbaugh. “Then had some missed field goals in the middle, but was just grinding.
“The true competitor that he is kept working and kept grinding at it. Not over-kicking, but grinding with the process. He’s been hitting the ball really well. He’s had some really good hits on the ball that haven’t gone through, and we’ll live with that.”
The 49ers have no choice but to live with him now, for better or worse. They’re down to the final game of the season and all the proverbial marbles are on the line.
Sunday’s Super Bowl could come down to a 50-plus yard field goal with the game hanging in the balance, and the Niners would have to trot out Akers for an attempt to win the game.
To Akers’ credit, he’s handled his situation as well as could be done. He’s had to answer the same questions from an international media over and over again for several hours this week, most of them about how poorly his season has been. And Akers has been a class act all the way.
The circumstances surrounding Crosby have not been all that different. After having a career year in 2011, Crosby was the NFL’s least accurate kicker this past season, putting his future with the team in doubt.
When asked to give his advice, not necessarily to Crosby, but to struggling a struggling kickers everywhere, Akers said to keep things in perspective.
“The only I keep holding onto, there’s more to life than football,” said Akers. “And whatever your career and job is, if that’s what defines you as a person, you need to re-evaluate what’s important.
“But obviously I’ve said this several times, this is what I do. I take a lot of pride; I want to be successful in my job. If it isn’t that way and I’ve given it my best, then what more can you do? I continue just to work hard, and hopefully that will all pay off.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email email@example.com.